Valley News -

By Kim Harris
Managing Editor 

Lake Elsinore residents flee from Holy Fire, take refuge from the flames


Last updated 8/11/2018 at 12:23am

Shane Gibson

Carlos Rea Villaverde (left) and Charles Carraway load a truck with some belongings before evacuating their neighborhood in the McVicker Canyon Park Road area in Lake Elsinore as the Holy Fire burns closer, Aug. 8.

There was an eerie stillness in the nearly-abandoned neighborhood of McVicker Canyon, Wednesday, Aug. 9. The sounds of burning brush and aircraft dropping loads of water and phos-chek break through the quietness as heat and smoke from the flames permeated the air.

McVicker Canyon, usually a hive of activity as family friends and neighbors go through the activities of their daily lives, is one of many neighborhoods in Lake Elsinore evacuated due to the Holy Fire, which at last count had charred more than 9,600 acres.

Earlier in the day, many were rushing to load their pets and personal belongings into their vehicles while others were trying to make the best of things by sharing an occasional laugh in the smoke-filled neighborhood.

"There was nobody up there," Johnathan Ashyk, a Realtor from Orange County who has a listing in the area, said.

"Down at the bottom there was still activity because people were still evacuating, but up at the top, at McVicker, it was like a ghost town, it really was. There was only one person on the street where I had my listing who was riding it out."

Ashyk said he was concerned there would be on the street making it difficult to maneuver through, but instead he found the area completely abandoned.

Earlier that day, Ashyk decided he should check on the property as he watched the fire progress on daily newscasts and social media.

When he arrived at McVicker Canyon Park Road, he stumbled upon a road block preventing him from driving up to his client's home.

"I mentioned to the officer that I had a property there and my client asked me to check on it," he said.

The officer wouldn't let Ashyk drive up the hill into the neighborhood, so he instead, he made the trek up the hill, by foot in the scorching heat, trying not to breathe in the smoke-filled air.

"I parked on Grand Avenue, put a T-shirt over my face so I wasn't breathing all that crap and walked up the hill," he said.

When he finished the steep, mile-long hike to the property, Ashyk found a nearly abandoned neighborhood

"When I got there, there was a red tag on the for sale sign, I believe marking the home as vacant," he said, adding that one of the neighbors had a fire hose and was spraying down his own home in spite of the mandatory evacuation order.

"I sprayed the house down a little bit," he said. "At that point there wasn't a lot I could do other than ride the storm out."

Ashyk said he waited for a bit watching the aircraft drop phos-chek.

"It was like I could touch the fire retardant, it was that close to me," he said. "I was kind of frantic at that point."

From there, he headed back down the hill to his parked vehicle.

Ashyk said that he saw when the fire started near Holy Jim Canyon a good distance away, but never in his wildest dreams did he think it could infiltrate into Lake Elsinore

"I guess this is reality," Ashyk said. "You hear of fires up north and how devastating they are but you never think it will hit in your backyard. It was surreal. I was about ready to cry, to tell you the truth. I couldn't believe it."

Ashyk said he wasn't at all prepared for what he would find when he made his way into the neighborhood.

"These homes are dreams for people and now here we are," he said. "I was flabbergasted, it's just too much."

Meanwhile, at Temescal Canyon High School, the Red Cross had opened a shelter for evacuees at 8 p.m. Tuesday that was serving about 45 people with more arriving, according to shelter Manager Ken Rieger, an American Red Cross Volunteer.

Krieger said that people coming to the shelter could expect to find a bed along with breakfast lunch, dinner and snacks.

"It's cool in here which is a big issue right now," he said. "We give them whatever they need."

Krieger said there was a registered nurse on staff for assistance with minor medical needs.

"We will call 9-1-1 for major emergencies," he said, adding that there was no time table for how long the shelter would be open.

The shelter is open and accepting evacuees 24 hours a day, he said.

"We don't allow pets other than service animals," he said. "Animal friends of the valleys is full right now, so they are taking pets to the Ramona Animal Shelter in San Jacinto."

Julie Heinze, a volunteer registered nurse with the Riverside County Medical Reserve Corp, was one of those at the high school late Wednesday afternoon. She was actually working at the time but had been evacuated from her home due to the Holy Fire.

Heine said she woke up that morning and noticed the fire had moved closer to her home, so she began packing up her truck.

"I was throwing stuff in and then I got a phone call asking me to come here (to Temescal Canyon High School) to volunteer," she explained, adding that she asked for some time to pack up her belongings to evacuate. "Then right in the middle of packing up, we got the mandatory evacuation."

Ashyk said people were blocking the roads due to the evacuation, but she eventually made it to her mother's house where she unloaded her personal belongings before reporting to the high school to volunteer at the shelter.

She worked at the shelter throughout the day serving people who needed assistance but had not heard anything about her home other than a report from her friend telling her there was a hot spot near Horsethief Canyon and her home nearby.

Vicki Virene also evacuated to the shelter with her daughter Samantha Harris. Her house is located in Upper McVicker.

"Our backyard is the Cleveland National Forest," she said. "We look on our cameras and can see that it's still standing."

Virene said due to the location of her home, she began preparations for evacuation early on.

"Don't think it's not going to happen, pack early," she advised.

Farris, who lives with her mother, said that the Holy Fire is the first time she has ever had to evacuate.

"After last night when we saw the fire creeping closer, we thought, this could actually get bad," she said. "This morning when the plane literally dropped the red stuff (phos-chek) it got pretty scary."

Katie Menges, event and media manager at Animal Friends of the Valleys, said the shelter has taken in about 130 pets due to the fire.

"We have designated a couple of specific kennel spaces for them," Menges said. "We have our staff coming in to take care them, just like we do our shelter pets."

Menges said she was unaware of the cat to dog ratio, but that some people had brought in guinea pigs and even a hedgehog.

Shane Gibson

Jessica Rodriguez and her family grab their pets before adhering to evacuation orders in a neighborhood in the McVicker Canyon Park Road area in Lake Elsinore as the Holy Fire burns closer, Aug. 8.

"That 130 pets came in just yesterday," she said. "At this point and time we are redirecting people to the San Jacinto campus or to the Riverside County Animal Campus.

The shelter could use some help with supplies such as blankets, large towels and Kitty Litter. While it's not needed at the moment, those wishing to donate food should bring in Hills Science Diet, she said.

Areas under mandatory evacuation at this time are McVicker Canyon, Rice Canyon, Horsethief Canyon, Glen Eden, El Cariso Village, Sycamore Creek and Rancho Capistrano. The Ortega Highway corridor from Lookout Restaurant to Nichols Institute is also under mandatory evacuation.

New mandatory evacuation orders were issued Aug. 9, for all homes in Lake Elsinore on the mountainside of Lake St and southeast of Grand Avenue to Ortega Highway.

Voluntary evacuation orders have been issued for the Machado community.


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